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Authors: Kay Hooper

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

The Lady and the Lion

BOOK: The Lady and the Lion
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Synopsis

 

The Mysterious Spellbinder...
At first she was only a voice in the darkness before dawn, but soon
Keith Donovan
was haunted, obsessed by the woman who'd listened to his cynical, desperate murmurings, and shared secrets of her own troubled heart. He'd never expected her to be so impossibly lovely, nor did
Erin Prentice
imagine that her powerful, anonymous companion of the night could fill her with recklessness...and sweep her into his dangerous quest for revenge. Something beyond reason bound her to this man, whose ruthless passion overwhelmed her in a tidal wave of primitive demand that thrilled and terrified her. Keith was her destiny, her crossroads - and Erin knew she had no choice but to welcome the fire that flared between them, even if he could never promise her always. But when he was forced to choose between love and rage, between tomorrow and yesterday, would the untamed spirit that first drew her to him find the courage to surrender his grief?

Death is afraid of him because he has the heart of a lion.


Arab proverb

 

Prologue

 

"Who is he?"

"Says his name's Duncan.
Claims to represent a cartel operating out of Colombia."

"What do you think?"

"His boat's Colombian registry; so's the jet. He spends money like water, and throws parties almost every night. He has the locals eating out of his hand."

"Drug money?"

"Looks that way."

Guy Wellman drummed his fingers against the desk, frowning. He was a middle-aged man, in good shape, with distinguished gray hair and a self-satisfied expression stamped into his heavy features. That smug expression had eroded over the past months, so that now he seemed more petulant than impressive.

His assistant, a quiet man with a hard face and shuttered eyes, watched his boss unemotionally.

"And he wants to meet me?" Wellman asked finally.

"Says he has a business proposition for you."

"I don't touch drugs," Wellman said emphatically.

"I gather he knows that. My bet is that he wants to smooth the way for his cartel. He said he needed a man of influence and respectability to deal 'properly' with officials."

Wellman scowled. "That bastard Arturo's
already using
me—why should I ask this one to do the same?"

After an almost imperceptible hesitation, his assistant said, "If his cartel is as powerful as he says, it wouldn't hurt to listen to the proposition."

"All right, all right.
Arrange a meeting."

One

 

The clock on her nightstand softly chimed the hour as Erin Prentice hung up the phone, but she didn't need to glance at it. Five A
.M
., ten A.M.
in London. It was the best time to catch her father—just after breakfast and before his full schedule of morning meetings. After so many years, she knew his schedule, often to the minute. And though he hadn't asked it of her, she had automatically suited her schedule to his.

Ironic, she thought. She wasn't supposed to
be
on a schedule; that was the point of this vacation.
One of them, anyway.
But habit died hard. By placing the call at this hour on her first morning in Miami Beach, she had tacitly agreed to call him every morning at the same time, and he would expect her to continue to do so.

Restless, Erin rose from the chair by her phone and went out into her sitting room, absently tightening the belt of her robe. She opened the French doors leading onto her balcony, and stepped out into the coolness of the predawn quiet that was broken only by the pounding of the waves. The balcony overlooked Miami's famous expanse of white beach. First light was seeping in the east, beginning to separate the horizon into sky and ocean.

It was peaceful. She could see that, but couldn't feel it herself. What she felt was frustration, guilt, and a grinding uncertainty about the direction her future should take. But above all, she felt isolated.

The realization had barely crossed her mind when Erin heard a soft sound, the creak of a chaise as weight was shifted slightly. She looked quickly to the right, the first stab of unease fading as she remembered what the desk clerk had told her. Her suite connected to the one next to it, big double doors between the rooms could be opened if a guest wanted a much larger suite. Now the balcony was shared, so a stout latticework screen fashioned of steel strips was bolted firmly in place in the center to provide privacy to both occupants of the suites. For good measure, there were additional folding screens on either side of the divider to be used if even more privacy was needed.

The latticework of the steel screen was closely woven, so that Erin could see nothing at first. Then a faint red glow became briefly visible, and an elusive aroma of tobacco told her that her neighbor was smoking. Erin hesitated, wary of speaking to a stranger, but both her background and her overwhelming sense of isolation drove her to acknowledge the presence of someone else.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she said, resting her hands on the waist-high masonry wall and turning her attention back toward the shimmering grayness of the sea and sky.

After a moment, a man responded, "Very beautiful.
Very peaceful."
His voice was deep and low, with a slight hint of restraint or tension.

Erin unconsciously tilted her head a bit as she listened to the voice rather than the words. In her father's world, where gamesmanship was subtle and careful, she had learned to pay more attention to tone and nuance, to all the things never spelled out in words. It was second nature to her to do so.

And what she heard in this man's voice intrigued her. The tension, she thought, seemed more physical than emotional, as if he were too tired or too edgy to relax. There was strength in his voice as well, power, a kind of certainty that told her he was very sure of his place in the world around him. Erin wanted to hear more, wanted to define the other things she heard, the shades and shadows and undercurrents. She forgot about merely being polite and courteous.

"I've always been an early riser," she said, keeping her own voice carefully neutral.
"You too?"

As before, a moment passed before he answered. "I work nights. This is the end of a day for me."

Which explained the tension, Erin decided. He hadn't yet wound down enough to rest. She wanted to ask what his job was, thinking with mild curiosity that it must be temporary work of some kind since he was staying in a hotel, but she didn't want to seem too nosy. "I'm on vacation," she offered, still gazing out at the dark ocean. "And even now I can't make myself sleep late."

"Habits are difficult to break." His voice was a shade more relaxed now, but still slow and
measured,
reminding her of the tone her father used when he was talking to someone he hadn't quite made up his mind about.

She nodded, even though she knew he couldn't see her as anything more than a shadow.
"Habits.
Schedules.
Sometimes I think the worst thing mankind ever did was invent a way of measuring time. We've become slaves to clocks." Listening to herself, Erin had to laugh. "Sorry. Dawn brings out the worst in me."

"It's a time of transition," the man said quietly. "It doesn't exist in itself except as a few minutes between night and day, a
time
when we ask ourselves the tough questions."

She thought he had probably asked himself a lot of tough questions. It was in his voice, something subtle she had heard only in the voices of highly intelligent, very powerful men. It was the sound of an intense inner drive that wasn't ambition for its own sake but rather a profound desire to accomplish something of importance.

"But when do the answers come?" she murmured.

"Another dawn.
If we're lucky."

Still listening more to his voice than the words, Erin deliberately lightened the subject. "I'm not so sure I believe in luck. I always lose at card games. Now is that bad luck or just an inability to play cards?"

"Is your memory good?" he asked.

"Very good."

A thread of amusement entered his voice. 'Then you're simply not paying attention to the cards. Skill at card games is almost entirely a matter of concentration."

"I do tend to let my mind wander," she admitted, smiling as she watched the sky lighten. "Winning a card game never seemed very important."

"Not unless you bet the kingdom," he said.

She laughed softly. "I never bet more than I can afford to lose."

"Wise of you."

Dawn was, as he'd observed, minutes only; light was gaining strength. Erin felt a sudden and peculiarly vivid regret at losing the anonymity of darkness. As brief as this time had been, she felt more at peace now. And, perhaps oddly, she had no inclination to see the face of her neighbor, or ask his name. It was pleasant, the lack of any demand in the faceless, nameless conversation, and she felt no need to change their relationship.

In her experience, knowledge brought demands between people, and that was the last thing she wanted right now.

Trying to keep the regret out of her voice, she said, "I should let you rest. Besides, another habit of mine is running every morning."

"You should be careful," he said. "This isn't the safest part of the world."

She could have told him that she had taken her daily run in places where soldiers patrolled. Where, in fact, wars had raged outside carefully marked and guarded neutral ground. But what she said was, "Thanks, I will. It's been nice talking to you."

"Likewise."

Erin retreated from the balcony, closing the French doors and automatically locking them. She went to change into her sweatsuit, glancing, this time, at the double doors leading into the other suite; the doors were securely locked, of course.

Her father would have told her she'd been foolish in talking to a strange man, in telling him she ran every morning on the beach. She wondered why she'd done it. Not that it mattered. She had a feeling her neighbor was as disinclined to meet her as she was to meet him, so he was unlikely to pursue a friendship.

Changing into her sweatsuit and running shoes, Erin amused herself by imagining the most likely—or unlikely—face and personality for her quiet neighbor. He was probably on the shady side of fifty, she decided, and his "work" was some high-stakes poker game played in a dark and smoke-filled room somewhere.

The talk of card games must have put that into her head, she realized.

He'd left a wife and kiddies back in Topeka while he followed some obscure poker circuit, winning and losing fortunes over the years....

Erin frowned slightly, pulled from the fantasy by the instincts that were telling her she was way off base. There had been too much strength in his voice to allow for the transient, risky life of a gambler, too much depth to permit him to be anything so trivial.

She glanced at the big double doors again as she passed through the sitting room on her way out, and ruthlessly ignored her growing curiosity.
Absurd.
Her own isolation was putting ridiculous ideas into her head, making her speculate without any good reason. Her neighbor was just a
man, that
was all, a man who had talked to her for a few quiet moments on a dark balcony.

She took her key and left the suite, determinedly ignoring the door just down the hall as she headed for the elevator. But she noticed the Do Not Disturb sign he'd hung out. Symbolic, she decided. He didn't want to be disturbed—and neither did she.

As the slender young woman took the walkway to the beach and broke into an easy jog, a very old man stepped from the shadows near a cabana and watched her. The first rays of the morning sun touched him, illuminating his white suit and his thick, snowy hair and beard in a way that seemed just a bit unreal. He propped elegant hands on a gold-headed cane, the pose suggesting thoughtfulness rather than infirmity.

BOOK: The Lady and the Lion
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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